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Family Support Services for Children With A Developmental Disability

Children with a developmental disability can add work and expenses for a family. At Easterseals serving Chicagoland & Greater Rockford, we understand that families work hard, which is why we offer Family Support Services. Our organization has been supporting individuals with disabilities and their families since 1936.

We focus on two pillars of work: Comprehensive Autism and Behavioral Services and Early Learning and Developmental Services. Within the community, many families come together to stand with each other through various support groups and family activities. Our family support services are designed to aid families and educators in supporting children with developmental disabilities. Our highly trained staff are here to provide assistance and opportunities for your child to learn in a peaceful and friendly environment. 

What does developmental disability mean?

If you’re looking for a developmental disability definition, it has changed over the years Easterseals has been active. The ever-evolving meaning reflects the way society changes and views those who have disabilities. It is important to understand that disability is a part of life rather than a limitation.  Every child is unique, and they learn in many different ways. Because of this, it is important to take into account how their developmental disability affects them. So what does developmental disability mean?

Developmental disabilities are impairments that can stem from:

  • Cognitive conditions
  • Physical conditions
  • Vision, hearing, and speech conditions
  • Behavioral conditions 
  • A combination




Conditions in which a person functions at a significantly below-average intellectual level and presents deficits in adaptive behavior, which negatively affects their learning abilities.

Some examples include Down  Syndrome, Epilepsy, and Autism. 


Impairments which are tied to mobility or body function to a point that adversely affects someone’s everyday life. 

Some examples include muscular or spinal muscular dystrophies, cerebral palsy, or paralysis. 

Vision, hearing, and speech

Early-onset, or later development of severe vision impairment, hearing loss, or delay in the development of intelligible speech. 

Some examples include blindness or deafness. 


At least a 6-month long pattern of disruptive behaviors which disturb life in school, at home, or in social situations. 

Some examples include Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), or Conduct Disorder. 

This is not uncommon, in fact about 17% of children between the ages of 3 to 17 years old are affected by a developmental disability. Some are born with disabilities, others may find that they develop later in their lives.  People who have intellectual disabilities have different levels of functioning, which include:

  1. Mild developmental disability (IQ ranging from 50 to 69)
  2. Moderate developmental disability (IQ ranging from 35 to 49)
  3. Severe developmental disability (IQ ranging from 20-34)
  4. Profound developmental disability (IQ below 20)

Our organization does not exclude in any case. No matter the type of disability or the level of functioning, we welcome all children and their families to learn and grow in our community.

What Causes Developmental Disabilities?

While a child’s developmental disability does not define who they are, it plays a role in the way they will live their life. The causes of these disabilities similarly do not affect the value of your child, however, it is natural to be curious about the cause of developmental disabilities

Some developmental disabilities are discovered at birth, often caused by complications during pregnancy. This could include exposure before birth, premature birth, infections, and other factors. Disabilities found at birth can be genetic or chromosomal abnormalities which are separated into two different categories:

  • Numerical abnormalities: an individual is either missing a chromosome from a pair or has more than two chromosomes (trisomy). 
  • Structural abnormalities: the structure of the chromosome itself is missing, duplicated, transferred to another chromosome, inverted, or broken off and formed a circle. 

Physical or neurological trauma can cause developmental disabilities later in life. An example would be an event such as a seizure or head trauma. 

It’s important to note that having a developmental disability does not discount someone from living a full and active life. They deserve to play, laugh, learn, and have a fulfilling life experience just like their friends and family. 

Easterseals serving Chicagoland & Greater Rockford Family Support Programs Available

Our programs are individualized to each family’s needs. At Easterseals serving Chicagoland & Greater Rockford, we have already worked with more than a million people along with their families living with a disability every year. Whether by phone, email, in the family home or at a convenient location, we are dedicated to providing community-based and inclusive services. These programs include:

  • Parent Education and Social Activities
  • Respite Program
  • Consultation Services
  • Retreat Yourself
  • Sibling Support
  • The Corner Room, A Family Library and Resource Center

Parent Education and Social Activities

Being a parent is a full-time job that did not come with a parenting handbook. The process of sifting through millions of resources available on developmental disability, all while being a full-time caretaker can seem tedious and unapproachable. This is where we come in!

Our Parent Education program provides training on a variety of topics including behavior, special education law, futures planning, and much more. These training sessions are a chance for families whose children have developmental disabilities to connect and share their experiences and knowledge. 

Respite Program

The Easterseals serving Chicagoland & Greater Rockford Respite Program offers children with disabilities a supervised and safe environment so that families have an opportunity to take a break from their caregiving responsibilities. Our caregivers who will spend time with each child are highly trained to meet the needs of each individual. 

There are spots available for ten families per month, which we serve on a first-come-first-serve basis. To be eligible for our Respite Program, the child must meet these criteria:

  1. Birth to twenty-one
  2. Must have a medical diagnosis of a developmental disability
  3. Denial from DHS-DORS or Milestone respite cannot be used in conjunction with either program
  4. There are no income guidelines
  5. Must live in Winnebago, Boone, or Ogle counties

Consultation Services

Our consultation services are here to take some of the stress out of any issues your family may run into. Consultants will provide problem-solving strategies in a case-by-case situation to identify and meet each family’s needs. We strive for meaningful solutions to family challenges, resulting in processes that can be applied for future use. Because we work with other local organizations, we can provide information about other community resources available and offer guidance on how to access them. 

This space provides an opportunity for parents to connect with other parents who have similar needs and experiences. Creating a strong community and support system is important to us. We will take every chance to nurture family and community bonds. Within families, we offer quality time to parents and siblings through family activities.

Family support services also assist in implementing solutions to problems by working with them to explore different options. We then determine which would be the most appropriate path for each family. Our team will assist families in completing paperwork and attend meetings to offer expertise when necessary. 

Retreat Yourself

One of the most important ways to help your child is to take care of yourself. This means eating, sleeping, and sometimes treating yourself. Our annual weekend retreat is made especially for mothers, grandmothers, aunts, or anyone who is raising or helping to raise a child with a developmental disability.

Not only is this a way to build a support network between other caregivers, but it is a peaceful environment to learn methods of self-care and have some fun. The weekend itself includes a variety of indoor and outdoor activities. This is a perfect chance for those who surround their children with support to celebrate themselves.

Sibling Support

Just as our valued caregivers deserve a community and time for themselves, the siblings of children with developmental disabilities require attention too. Sibling Support is a chance for the siblings of children with disabilities to socialize with other siblings and learn from one another through fun activities.

We provide support for the child with a developmental disability, in that time, the parents have an opportunity to interact with their children without disabilities. Talking to your children about disabilities can be easier than you think when you are open and honest with them. Learn more about that conversation here

Supporting your child without a disability helps them grow as individuals. Giving attention to both children is necessary for their self-esteem and the relationship between them. This means advocating for both of them as well. The Special Olympics created a guide for supporting siblings of children with disabilities and these are some stand-out tips:

  1. Recognize when your child needs support. Siblings of children with disabilities may face some challenges such as isolation or stress management. Ask them questions to identify what challenges they are facing so you can better address how they feel.
  2. Model positive attitudes and behaviors. If you face difficulties in life with confidence and positivity, your children will take your lead. Parents influence their children every day, it is important for them to learn productive ways to deal with adversity.
  3. Promote acceptance. A family’s home is a safe environment, however, life outside of the home is an unpredictable environment where children will face people who might not understand. It’s important to teach your child to embrace everyone’s differences rather than see them as “not normal”. 
  4. Provide individualized opportunities. Sometimes it may feel necessary to place more attention on the sibling with disabilities. However, siblings without disabilities may struggle to create an identity outside of their family. This is why it’s necessary to give your child without disabilities opportunities to explore their own interests. 
  5. Provide fair opportunities for both siblings. There are many different reasons why a child without disabilities might find it difficult to relate with their sibling with disabilities. By giving both children similar and balanced opportunities, they will likely see each other as equals and have respect for each other. 
  6. Include all of your children in family conversations. Consider inviting your child without disabilities into the conversations involving their sibling’s disability, such as including them in doctor’s visits. This can help them have more of an understanding of their sibling and bring the entire family together.
  7. Spend quality time with your child without disabilities. Set aside some alone time with your child without disabilities to make them feel like a priority. 
  8. Foster inclusive play at home. Choose a few 20-30 minute activities for both your children at least three times a week to foster an environment where children of all abilities can play and have fun together. 
  9. Do activities as a whole family. Schedule some fun events and activities to participate in as a family. Discuss with everyone which activities sound most exciting and come to a decision together. These activities will help everyone bond and learn about each other.
  10. Discuss future plans. When the day comes you can not take care of your child with disabilities, it is important to have a plan in place. Include your children in these conversations and stress the importance of family bonds while considering future options of caretaking. 
  11. Take care of yourself. Parenting is challenging and can become stressful or exhausting. Children are more aware of your well-being than you might think. This is why it’s important to take time for self-care. Improving your emotional self will positively impact the way you can take care of others. 

Keep an eye out for our annual sibling event where siblings will learn, grow, and have fun together!

The Corner Room, A Family Library and Resource Center

Parents of children with developmental disabilities accept many responsibilities beyond caregiving alone, such as researching and monitoring their child’s health, researching the best education plans, coordinating future educational and health endeavors, and navigating insurance coverage. The list is nearly endless. Many of these tasks will require tools they may not have available at home. 

The Corner Room is full of valuable resources that families can utilize free of charge. Along with free internet access, we offer books, DVDs, handouts, materials for loan or keep, and a laminator. This center is available Monday through Friday from 8:15 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. by appointment. 

How Can I Be Supportive Of Children With Developmental Disabilities?

When it comes to learning about and living with disabilities, your child will see you as their rock. But it can be extremely difficult to know how to navigate this process. Children look to their parents or caregivers for guidance and support, so it’s always a good idea to have a plan of action for facing future challenges. Ultimately the goal is for your child to feel loved, accepted, and to be resilient in life. Giving your child the tools to achieve this will be a life-long journey for both of you. While there is not a one-size-fits-all approach, there are some steps you can take to develop a healthy and full lifestyle for you and your child. 

Children with learning or cognitive disabilities require social and emotional tools to succeed. Here are a handful of tips on how to support your child with learning disabilities: 



Take charge of your child’s education

Communicate with your child’s school. You are the biggest advocate for your child, so you know what educational goals are in your child’s best interest. Be clear with these goals, listen to school officials, ask for clarification when necessary, and offer new solutions. 

Identify how your child learns best

Children’s learning styles can be put into three categories: visual, auditory, or kinesthetic. Whichever they may be, focus on that unique learning style that you can reinforce in the classroom or at home while studying. 

Think life success rather than school success

Remember that a grade in school does not define a child. Placing the meaning of “success” on other life accomplishments outside of the classroom will build your child’s confidence. 

Emphasize healthy lifestyle habits

Nourish the body and the mind. Ensure that your child is maintaining a balanced diet so they can concentrate and work hard. Find some fun physical activities to keep their mood positive. And finally, allow for enough sleep so they can recharge each day!

Take care of yourself too

You are the heart behind your children, so it’s important to take care of yourself. Create your own healthy life habits so you don’t run the risk of feeling burnt out. When you are calm and focused, your children will follow your lead. 

For children with physical disabilities, here are some helpful solutions: 



Make it easy to move around in play areas

Provide a safe space by arranging furniture and equipment so children can move around freely. Creating this space will make your child feel more comfortable participating in physical activities. 

Adapt learning activities

Provide tools for children with motor disabilities that they can grasp onto while holding, transferring, or releasing. Make sure areas are well-lit and make sure objects are age-appropriate. 

Teach classmates how to help a child with a  physical disability

Be an example of how to play respectfully. Reward their classmates for showing interest in being helpful to your child, but also teach them how to accept “no” when your child does not want help. 

Enrolling in Family Support Services

Accepting support and guidance can be difficult, but we’re here to take that first step with you. Whether you’re most comfortable connecting over the phone or in your home, we can accommodate your family’s needs. Give us a call at Easterseals serving Chicagoland & Greater Rockford or reach out through our contact us page.  Our community is here and waiting to support you.

Click here to view Family Support Services brochure


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A United Way Partner Agency

United Way 211 - Individuals and families in our community need quick access to reliable information that addresses their most critical needs. United Way 211 is an easy to remember telephone number that connects callers with free information and referrals for community services within Ogle and Winnebago counties.

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For additional information, please contact:

Patti Hobbs, Family Support Services

730 North Church, Rockford, IL 61103
815.965.5069 ext. 1221 Phone
815.965.6021 Fax

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